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RIAA unveils 2nd wave of swap suits

Tone of download warning tempered

WASHINGTON — The Recording Industry Assn. of America launched a second wave of lawsuits last week against individuals it suspects of using peer-to-peer networks illegally to swap at least 1,000 music files on the Internet.

The trade group is softening the blow this time around by sending a letter to 204 people, giving them a chance to settle before the actual lawsuits are filed, and advising them to get a lawyer ASAP. The recipients have 10 days from the date of the RIAA warning to contact the trade org and settle before official legal action is taken.

“We will assume you are not interested in settlement and will proceed to litigation if we do not hear from you within 10 days of the date of this letter,” lawyers for the RIAA wrote. “We encourage you to consult an attorney immediately to advise you on your rights and responsibilities since we are obviously not your lawyers.”

Toning down

Move comes in response to congressional concerns that the trade group’s tactics are too heavy-handed, catching innocent individuals and unsuspecting grandparents and teenagers in a legal dragnet. Just weeks ago, a recent college grad in her mid-20s testified at a Senate hearing that she was unaware that swapping music online was illegal before a lawsuit landed on her doorstep and reporters started calling to ask her about it. She later was forced to pay nearly $4,000 to avoid further litigation.

At that hearing, RIAA topper Mitch Bainwol pledged to notify individuals of the illegal nature of their activity on peer-to-peer networks before the lawsuits landed. “We are trying to be reasonable and fair and allow these cases the opportunity to be resolved without litigation,” he said.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) convened the hearing to examine whether the RIAA is taking legal action too far and abusing individuals’ privacy rights.

A spokesman for Coleman on Friday called the RIAA notification efforts a step in the right direction but said the senator stands by his belief that lawsuits are not the ultimate solution to the piracy problem posed by peer-to-peer networks.

Legal downloads

The RIAA action came a day after computer-maker Apple opened the doors to its iTunes Music Store to PC owners, launching a new version for Windows.

Apple, which has sold more than 13 million songs since it started the legal downloading business six months ago, now faces big-name competitors including MusicMatch and Napster.

“A lot of people have experience in the Windows market, but we have the most experience in the music market,” said Rob Schoeben, Apple’s VP of applications product marketing. “As the other companies entering the space are cobbling their first generation, we’re on our second.”

Like its Macintosh version, iTunes Music Store for Windows will offer songs from all five major labels and over 200 independents for 99¢ a track.

Apple also announced two marketing partnerships that will likely prove big advantages in reaching users. The first, with America Online, integrates the iTunes Music Store into AOL’s music content, allowing users to download songs as they read related news and reviews. And in a promotion that will launch with a Super Bowl ad, Apple is allying with Pepsi to give away 100 million songs via codes printed on soda bottle caps.

(Ben Fritz contributed to this report.)

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